Swim tour promotes swimming safety

Olympic athletes help stress need for swim lessons at early age

SAN ANTONIO – Child drownings are the leading cause of unintentional death for children under the age of 4 and the second leading cause for children under 14, according to the USA Swimming Foundation.

A pair of Olympic gold medalists visited San Antonio on Monday with the Make a Splash tour to show how swim lessons can be life-savers.

"Drowning is an epidemic in the United States," Olympic medalist Cullen Jones said. "It's such a big problem and there's an easy solution, and it's swim lessons."

Jones, who won medals swimming in two Olympic games, joined fellow Olympian Rowdy Gaines to spread a message of water safety.

"Swimming is a life skill," Jones said. "It's something that when you learn how to swim, you don't forget how to swim."

The USA Swimming Foundation report that 3,500 people drown each year. It's a number they're trying to bring down with the Make a Splash tour.

"There's no such thing as 'water safe,' USA Swimming Foundation executive director Debbie Hesse said. "It's being safer around the water. But think about it, you can reduce your risk of drowning by 88 percent by taking swimming lessons."

The USA Swimming Foundation has partnered with San Antonio Sports' Viva Swim for Life initiative to spread the message. They report that in Bexar County, there were 68 drownings between the years of 2010 and 2013.

With such a diverse population, officials say it's important to remember that the need to know how to swim covers all races.

"Seventy percent of African Americans don't know how to swim," Jones said. "Nearly 60 percent of Hispanic Americans don't know how to swim. It's a big problem and nearly 40 percent of Caucasian Americans can't swim. So it's a U.S. problem."

Jones said it's important to start early.

"As soon as they're crawling, as long as they're mobile (or) they can move around, they should learn to be safer and to respect the water," he said.

Monday's event also included an in-water swim clinic to educate families on the importance of swim lessons.

For more on the Make a Splash tour and staying safe around the water, visit the USA Swimming Foundation's website.